President Taps Stephen Johnson as Next EPA Administrator

WASHINGTON, DC, March 4, 2005 (ENS) - President George W. Bush this morning nominated career civil servant Stephen Johnson to the top post at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Johnson has been with the agency for the past 24 years and has been acting administrator since late January when EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt moved on to head the Department of Health and Human Services.

President Bush called Johnson "a talented scientist and skilled manager with a lifelong commitment to environmental stewardship."

During his 24 year career with the EPA, Johnson has served under Democratic as well as Republican administrations. At the White House nomination today, Johnson declared his loyalty to the Bush view of environmental stewardship.

Johnson and Bush

President George W. Bush (right) announces Stephen Johnson as his nominee for EPA Administrator in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. (Photo by David Bohrer courtesy The White House)
"Under your leadership, we have made great strides in environmental protection," he told the President. "If confirmed, it will be my distinct privilege to serve you and our nation to continue to advance environmental agenda while maintaining our nation's economic competitiveness."

If confirmed by the Senate, Johnson will head an agency with more than 18,000 employees nationwide and an annual budget of some $8.6 billion.

Bush said he wants Johnson to immediately "work with Congress to pass my Clear Skies Initiative."

"This innovative legislation will reduce power plant pollution by 70 percent, without disrupting the economy or raising electricity prices," Bush said. "The bill will give governors the flexibility they need to meet strict new air quality standards, improve public health, and protect vulnerable ecosystems from acid rain. Clear Skies is a common-sense, pro-environment, pro-jobs piece of legislation, and Congress needs to get it to my desk this year."

The Bush initiative is resisted by many conservation organizations who say it would fail to clear the air as quickly as the existing Clean Air Act.

Johnson's nomination was met with approval by the electric power industry, which supports the Bush "Clear Skies" plan to use market mechanisms such as a cap and trade system for mercury emissions from power plants.

Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council called Johnson "a capable leader," and a "respected, seasoned professional."

In his forecast of Johnson's new responsibilities, Segal pointed the way his industry would like to see the EPA go on clean air and mercury issues. "The new administrator must keep a sense of balance and proportion in mind," he said. "Environmental rules developed without balance can undermine energy security, safety, consumer protection, and, in the end, emissions control."

In announcing the nomination, President Bush said, Steve shares my conviction that we can improve the Earth while maintaining a vibrant and competitive economy. He will work cooperatively with leaders in government, industry, and environmental advocacy to continue using our resources wisely. He will listen to those living closest to the land, because they know our environmental needs best."

Johnson has degrees in biology and pathology, and he has specialized in pesticides, representing the EPA both nationally and internationally on pesticide issues.

He has been near the top of several EPA pesticide related divisions during the past decade. Typical was his post as Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator of the EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances in 1999.

"As an expert on pesticides," said President Bush, Johnson will lead federal efforts to ensure the security of our drinking water supply.

Johnson

Johnson is a pesticides expert and has worked his way up in the EPA through 24 years of service. (Photo courtesy EPA)
"My budget includes a new program to better monitor urban water systems, so we can detect contamination as quickly as possible," Bush said. "EPA personnel are playing an important role in the war on terror, so my budget increases support for EPA homeland security programs by more than 70 percent this year."

U.S. Public Interest Research Group Executive Director Gene Karpinski took a cautious but optimistic view of the nomination. “We’re hopeful that Mr. Johnson’s nomination means that the administration will make decisions based on science and protective of public health and the environment instead of based on the bottom lines and wishes of special interests,” he said.

“Administrator Johnson and the Bush Administration are faced with several important decisions in the coming months that could either protect or harm the public," said Karpinski, who represents the State Public Interest Research Groups, nonprofit, nonpartisan, public interest advocacy groups.

Karpinski sees the key issues in the near future as dealing with mercury, soot and smog pollution, clean water and sewage dumping, and the public right to know about pollution.

Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope said, "Steve Johnson has had a long career with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is the best we could expect as a nominee from the Bush administration. The real challenge for Mr. Johnson will be dealing with the White House’s agenda to weaken clean air and clean water protections, and ignore global warming.

"This is deja vu all over again," said Pope. "Former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman came to her position with good environmental credentials and a strong reputation, but the White House clearly called all the shots on environmental and public health protections during her tenure. When she left, we suspect out of frustration, the White House appointed Mike Leavitt as its frontman. We hope that Mr. Johnson can rise above the White House's expectations that he will be a figurehead."

The EPA is poised to release a final rule regarding a Maximum Achievable Control Technology standard for mercury from power plants. A recent EPA Inspector General Report found that senior level officials urged staff scientists to release a rule favorable to industry that would put hundreds of thousands of children at risk of increased mercury exposure.

"The EPA received a record number of public comments in favor of scrapping its proposal and issuing a rule that reduces mercury pollution from power plants by 90 percent by 2008," Karpinski said.

Conservation groups are urging the EPA to strengthen and finalize the Clean Air Interstate Rule to cap smog emissions from power plants in the eastern U.S. at 1.8 million tons and soot emissions at one million tons.

The EPA has issued a draft policy that would allow inadequately treated sewage to be dumped into waterways across the country. Conservation groups support a bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives who Thursday introduced a bill that would block the sewage dumping policy.

The EPA is currently holding public rule-making regarding changes to its far reaching right-to-know program, the Toxic Release Inventory. Each year, companies are required to report their toxic chemical releases to air, water, and land, informing the public about this impact on their health.

This summer, EPA is expected to propose changes to the program that will reduce the amount of information available, Karpinski warns. U.S. PIRG is urging the agency to expand the amount of information available to the public, and continue with its strong support of the Toxic Release Inventory program.

Bush has been using the courts and regulatory means to overturn a Clinton era rule that would keep roads and the development they bring out of 58 million roadless acres on America's national forests.